8 players you had no idea were already playing in the Saudi Pro League
Saudi Arabia continues to force its way into the mainstream football conversation with the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and most recently Karim Benzema agreeing big money transfers to join the state’s top-flight.
While controversial due to the nature of life in Saudi Arabia and the motives behind the Saudi Pro League attracting top stars through huge sums of money, it isn’t the first time a league from outside Europe’s most popular divisions has tried the stunt. But where China flashed the cash and Russia tried to force their way into the conversation, they were never able to attract such huge names.
Beyond the stardom of Benzema, Ronaldo, and quite possibly N’Golo Kante, there are actually already a plethora of pretty well known footballers already plying their trade in the Saudi Pro League. With the league’s interest continuing to controversially boom, it’s time to scrub up on your knowledge; here are eight of those players.
Gregorz Krychowiak (Al-Shabab)
The 33-year-old midfielder is most famous for his time at Sevilla, which prompted an unsuccessful move to Paris Saint-Germain in 2016 and subsequently a loan to West Brom.
He was playing at Russian side Krasnodar in 2022, but following the country’s invasion of Ukraine, now finds himself on loan at Al-Shabab.
Cristian Tello (Al Fateh)
Hopes were high for Tello, who broke through at Barcelona in the early 2010s, but couldn’t turn the early promise into a career with La Blaugrana.
He didn’t actually officially leave the club until 2017, when he moved to Real Betis and carved out a respectable five-year stint before heading to Los Angeles FC. That didn’t last long, though, and he now finds himself at Al Fateh.
كريستيان تيّو 🎼⚽️
— دوري روشن السعودي (@SPL) May 26, 2023
Uros Matic (Abha Club)
Younger brother of Nemanja, Uros Matic does not play for an Abha tribute club, but instead in the Saudi top-flight, and has done since 2021.
Money, money, money. Must be funny.
Moussa Marega (Al-Hilal)
Known best for his time with Porto in Europe, 25 times capped Mali international Marega left Europe behind in 2021 to sign for Al-Hilal.
Based in Riyadh, they are the most decorated side in Asia and lifted the AFC Champions League in Marega’s first season at the club.
Helder Costa (Al-Itihad)
We are a loan deal being made permanent away from Leeds United outcast Costa turning provider for Ballon d’Or winner Benzema. Seriously.
That might well not happen, but Costa has spent the 2022-23 season in Saudi Arabia on temporary terms, and has helped them to the Saudi Pro League title ahead of Ronaldo’s Al-Nassr. We know who our GOAT is.
David Ospina (Al-Nassr)
Speaking of Nassr, the club has become somewhat of a retirement home for notable names of yesteryear from the European game.
Ospina was never quite able to permanently force his way in as the first choice goalkeeper at Arsenal from 2014 to 2019, but spent a considerable amount of time in north London and proved a key asset for the club both as a number two and occasionally as number one.
He made the switch to Napoli in 2019 and enjoyed a few years in Italy, before leaving in 2022 for Nassr. He missed out on the Saudi Pro League title as Napoli lifted the Scudetto. Ouch.
Anderson Talisca (Al-Nassr)
A gem for players of the FIFA video game series, Talisca has an incredibly streets won’t forget CV.
The Brazilian, who was never capped beyond under-23 level, burst onto the scene with Benfica, but would later spend two years on loan at Besiktas before a move to China beckoned.
As money and interest in the Chinese Super League began to dwindle, he jumped on the next trend by heading to Saudi Arabia in 2021. Hell of a career, right? He’s only 29 too. Seriously. Twenty nine. Absurd. If that isn’t a timeline that screams 37-year-old veteran turned journeyman, we don’t know what does.
Luiz Gustavo (Al-Nassr)
A Bundesliga great, Gustavo made over 200 appearances in the German top-flight for the likes of Bayern Munich, Wolfsburg and Hoffenheim and won the Bundesliga and Champions League in 2012-13.
Capped 41 times for Brazil, the midfielder didn’t stop there and continued to mark his influence on top level football throughout the 2010s, finishing runner up in the 2017-18 Europa League with Marseille, but making the Europa League and Ligue 1 teams of the year.
It’s quite a surprise, then, to learn that Gustavo slyly snuck out of the limelight in 2022 and headed to Saudi Arabia, signing for Nassr also. No league title in the Middle East for the 35-year-old just yet, though.